The Breeder/Owner-Handler Team – Creating a Winning Duet

The Breeder/Owner-Handler Team


The Breeder/Owner-Handler Team – Creating a Winning Duet


Long before I was a breeder/owner-handler, I was a professional singer. Singing solo is rewarding, but never the rush of excitement that comes from singing a duet. That is because when you sing alone, especially when you have been doing it a long time, you come to trust yourself, your training, and your discipline. When singing with someone else, though, especially with a new duet partner, there is a wildcard element that is, frankly, exhilarating.

I find it to be the same in the sport of handling dogs. In the breeder/owner-handler arena, I’ve been privileged to have many duet partners over the years, the majority of which I bred myself, holding sacred the preservationist values of my dear mentor and longtime breeder-judge, Carl C Yochum. From training a puppy to retiring a veteran, there is an ebb and flow to the relationship between the dog and handler that is nurtured and developed, where each learns from the other, and it can be incredibly rewarding. It takes time, hard work, patience, and practice.

No two dogs are the same. Sometimes, the best and most fun partners in the end are the most spirited and challenging to train. I recently watched the Kentucky Derby and could not help but be impressed by the winning jockey’s strategic maneuvering, timing and truly knowing his partner well enough to pull off quite a thrilling victory. There have been days when I arrived at a show with a 40-plus hour work week barely in the rear view mirror, regular maintenance of my dogs on my to do list, and a mountain of worries on my mind—just to compartmentalize it all for those two minutes in the ring while my Special’s “fire to compete” inspired me like a mental energy drink. On the reverse, some days the handler may have a great day when the dog is not completely “on.” Yet, when both the dog and handler hit their stride in perfect synchronicity to showcase the best of the dog’s qualities and worthiness in the moment, there is magic to be made.

Carl used to tell me that you will always succeed when you least expect it, and it has always been that way. I think that is because when you focus on your partner, it’s really easy to silence the background noise and focus on nothing else. In the end, the dog/handler duo has the opportunity to showcase the best the dog has to offer in type, form, function, and all of the other notes that play into the symphony of—hopefully—being selected as the dog on the day.


The Breeder/Owner-Handler Team – Creating a Winning Duet
By Matina E. Johnson

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